Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Do as I say, or I'll stamp my feet

I don’t know whether the Russian state was or was not behind the poisoning in Salisbury.  And unless the UK government has information which it has yet to release, then it does not know either, despite having rushed to point the finger.  Russia isn’t the only possible culprit either; as Craig Murray points out, there are other credible potential villains.  I tend to suspect that Russia is the likeliest, but am struggling to see a strong enough motive for carrying out the attack, let alone doing so in such a way that they would obviously be the top suspects.
But even if we give the UK government the benefit of the doubt, and assume that they know what they’re talking about, how wise is it really for a middle-sized offshore state to start issuing ‘ultimatums’ to a state like Russia?  I understand and agree that no state can idly stand by and allow another state to target and kill civilians at will (although the UK position on that would be a great deal stronger if they hadn’t been actively engaged in doing the same thing elsewhere), and that, if the evidence is strong enough there has to be a protest, backed up by some sort of diplomatic action.  But an ultimatum?
There’s something very old-fashioned about the idea of one state issuing an ultimatum to another.  Hitler issued more than one before invading countries, and Chamberlain issued one to Hitler before declaring war on Germany.  But normally, they’re issued either by opponents who are roughly equal as a prelude to stepping outside to settle the issue, or else by the playground bully as a pretext for the thrashing which is to follow.  Even in the times in which they were more commonplace, my memory of history doesn’t bring to mind an instance of one being issued to the bully by the child receiving, or about to receive, the thrashing.  The reason for that should be obvious.
It strikes me as yet another example of the delusion suffered by those who govern us that the UK (or Great Britain as they’d probably prefer to call it despite its inaccuracy as a description) is still a global power in the face of which others should be quaking in their boots: a great power which can throw its weight around and force others into line.  Whilst they certainly need to be disabused of that notion, I’d prefer, on the whole, to find a better way to bring that about than picking a fight with Russia.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

British nationalism isn't exclusive to the Tories

One of the lines used by Corbyn in his speech at the weekend was this: "As democratic socialists, we respect the result of the referendum”.  At first sight, it looks like an entirely reasonable statement, but the premise behind it deserves a bit more thought than that.
I can see how being ‘democratic’ requires the result of any vote by the people to be ‘respected’, in the sense of being a decision at a point in time.  But any democratically-taken decision at a point in time can always be changed by another democratic decision taken at another point in time.  Whether a particular time is the ‘right’ time to test opinion again or not is a question of detail, and I can understand – and even support – an argument which says that we can’t keep on asking people to revisit a decision until we get the ‘right’ answer.  That isn’t at all the same thing, though, as saying that we have no right to continue the argument and try and persuade people to change their minds.  There’s nothing about the word ‘democratic’ which requires a decision thus taken to be immutable regardless of the consequences or subsequent events.
I don’t see, though, why being a ‘socialist’ requires any decision to be ‘respected’ to the extent that it is somehow illegitimate to argue for it to be reversed.  Indeed, quite the reverse.  Being any sort of ‘socialist’ surely requires one to articulate a particular view of the world and to actively seek to persuade people of the validity of that view rather than simply accepting that the people have rejected your world view.
And that brings us to the heart of the Corbyn/Labour problem in relation to the EU.  Corbyn – and some of those around him – still cling to the view that detaching the UK from the rest of Europe is actually a way of advancing their socialist vision rather than constraining it.  An ‘independent’ UK coupled with a ‘socialist’ government is, from that viewpoint, a route to beginning a transformation of British society.  They just seem unable or unwilling to articulate it in those terms, which suggests at the least a lack of conviction either that they can make it happen or else that they can convince people of the merit of the case.  Possibly both.
The political analysis which paints the EU as a club of capitalists committed to an ideology which does not operate in the best interests of working people is one with which I have considerable sympathy, and was part of my opposition to membership of the EEC at the time of the first referendum back in 1975.  As things transpired, however, working people had more to fear from the government of the UK throughout the 1980s whilst it was the EEC/EU which did more to protect the rights of working people, even if the UK repeatedly sought opt-outs from the relevant EU rules.  Looking back over recent history, it was Tory governments which sought to resist extensions of rights proposed through the EU structures, and Labour governments which subsequently embraced those changes, such as the Social Chapter.  In that context, it’s no surprise that one of the Tory drivers for Brexit is the idea that all of those protections can be removed once free of the influence of ‘Brussels’.
The problems for the unarticulated Corbynite view of the world are, firstly, that he can’t carry his own party with him, which is part of the reason for failing to explain his position in detail; secondly that even if he could, it depends on Labour being able to win a succession of elections over a lengthy period to make and embed the sort of changes required – a possibility which history suggests is unlikely; and thirdly that the rest of the world needs to play ball while it happens.  The history of trying to build ‘socialism in one country’ is not exactly a happy one.
The alternative is that ‘democratic socialists’ in the UK seek to work with similarly-minded people in other countries across Europe to bring about wider and more permanent change across the continent.  It’s a daunting task, but it seems to me more likely to succeed in the long run.  It requires the sort of ‘internationalist’ approach about which Labour often talk but on which they rarely act.  Deep down, there is a strong thread of British nationalism and exceptionalism running through the Labour Party, just like in the Tory party.  It’s always been there, but the combination of Corbyn and Brexit is exposing it more clearly.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Choosing the wrong target

After Jeremy Corbyn’s speech at his party’s Scottish Branch meeting over the weekend, it is a complete mystery to me how anyone is still giving any credibility to the idea that Labour’s policy on the EU is in any way different in substance to that of the Tory government.  As an exercise in cakeism, it was a tour de force: Labour want all the benefits of the EU without being bound by any of the rules; they want to be outside the EU yet still have a say in all the important EU policies; they want the exact same benefits as we get from membership whilst having more freedom to make our own policies than any member, let alone any of the countries with which the EU has an existing relationship.  Other than the use of words, and the fig leaf of ‘a’ rather than ‘the’ customs union, it was a speech which could have come from the mouth of Johnson, Gove, Fox, or May.
Except, that is, for the part about immigration.  That was more Farage than Johnson and friends.  And it was a particularly depressing section of his speech, designed more to try to appeal to the prejudices of a particular segment of the electorate than to set out any sort of vision for the future.  There’s been plenty of research showing that the impact of immigration on wages and opportunities is minimal, but he chose to ignore that, concentrating instead on the idea that the damaging part of immigration, in economic terms, is when agencies bring in foreign labour to undercut workers in the UK.
Now, on a factual basis, I don’t know what proportion of total immigration this issue affects.  It’s certainly not all immigration, and I suspect that it’s actually a small part, but it’s a part which is more visible in some communities and some types of work than others, as a result of which it probably has more impact on people’s views on the issue than other types of immigration.  It would be interesting to see some more detailed research on it, but I’ll accept that there is a widespread perception that some agencies are getting around UK law on issues such as the minimum wage by providing food, accommodation, transport etc. and docking these costs (at an inflated level) from the wages being paid to the migrants concerned.  As I said, the extent to which this is a true or accurate perception is a question on which I do not have adequate information to make a judgement, but I’m certain that the perception is widely held.
If we suppose, for the sake of argument, that it is an accurate perception, and that the practice is in use widely across the UK, then it is reasonable to ask what the solution might be.  And my immediate reaction is that if there are holes in the law allowing unscrupulous capitalist employers to exploit employees, than those holes need to be plugged and enforcement action taken.  And had Corbyn suggested that, I would have whole-heartedly supported him.  Protecting workers from exploitation by unscrupulous employers is exactly the approach that I would have expected from anyone calling himself or herself a socialist.
Sadly, however, that wasn’t what he did.  To his shame, he effectively scapegoated the migrants themselves, by supporting an end to freedom of movement.  It’s a case of blaming the victims of an economic relationship based on power and wealth for being on the wrong side of that relationship.  His underlying point, I assume, is that freedom of movement for lower paid workers is a policy which is working more in the interests of employers than of employees.  But even if he’s right, the answer isn’t to curtail the freedom of workers to move, it is to curtail the freedom of employers to exploit.

Friday, 9 March 2018

Different rules inevitably incur costs

There was one sentence in the statement by EU Council President, Donald Tusk, this week which seemed to me to sum up the essence of the fantasy world in which the UK government is living.  He said that “This will be the first FTA [Free Trade Agreement] in history that loosens economic ties instead of strengthening them”.  There are two key aspects to current agreements stemming from EU membership, one of which is the removal of all tariffs, and the other is the harmonisation of rules and regulations.  Either of those types of barriers can lead to a requirement for borders and checks; only the removal of both types of barriers can secure ‘frictionless’ trade.  The UK’s position, repeatedly spelt out by the Prime Minister and her colleagues, is that there will not be a common set of rules and regulations (unless, presumably, the EU agrees to copy UK rules, a possibility which I think we can discount).  In those circumstances, there is no way to avoid Tusk’s conclusion that the negotiation is about securing a new agreement which loosens rather than strengthens current ties.
It’s easy to see how, in principle, it will be possible to reach an agreement which does not require the re-imposition of tariffs between the EU and the UK, but the UK’s aspiration to be able to change its regulations at will necessarily requires more border controls than currently exist.  There is potentially a not insignificant problem relating to the term ‘most-favoured nation status’ which is found in many trade agreements, under which if the EU offers the UK a ‘no-tariff’ agreement, it could be obliged to offer the same to a number of other countries with which it has existing trade agreements, and which would also condition any agreements which the UK subsequently reached with other parties.  But with time (if we had it), I suspect that such an agreement could be reached, and Donald Tusk has himself indicated that the EU27 are ready and willing to work towards that.
It is a lot harder to see how the problem of non-tariff barriers can be overcome, as long as the UK continues to insist on its right to set different rules and regulations, unique to its own markets.  In her latest speech, the Prime Minister seemed to be tacitly acknowledging this, whilst still clinging to the meaningless rhetoric about creating the absolute bestest free trade agreement ever in the whole history of mankind, in an attempt to paper over the inevitable.  As long as the term ‘free trade’ refers only to the issue of tariffs, she might even get something close to that; but pretending that it can in any way be other than worse than the current agreement is delusional.  And the only way that it can obviate the need for a hard border is if we redefine the term ‘no hard border’ to mean a border controlled by armed police through which smart technology is used to minimise delays, just like the one between the US and Canada to which the PM herself referred.  Getting the Irish government to agree to that redefinition strikes me as falling, at the very least, into the category labelled ‘challenging’.
Of course, not being bound by rules and regulations which have to be painstakingly negotiated with 27 other countries and then applied uniformly is something which has a value of sorts in its own right.  It’s not a financial value, though; in financial terms it carries a cost, not just in terms of restricting trade and travel between neighbouring countries, but also in terms of duplicating the standards and enforcement mechanisms.  I think that at least some of the Brexiteers understand that, and have decided that it’s a price worth paying.  It would be more honest, though, for them to say that and explain why, rather than to continue to try and argue that there is no cost at all involved.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Who needs anyone else's agreement?

At the heart of the debate about the so-called ‘power grab’ by Westminster as part of the Brexit process is a belief that common frameworks in some areas are a good thing which will help to maintain the coherence of the market between the different parts of the UK.  As far as I can make out, there’s no real difference between the position of the UK Government and the devolved governments on that question; the issue is about how to achieve it.  In essence, although they don’t put it such clear terms themselves, the position of the UK Government is that such commonality can only be achieved by Westminster deciding the framework and effectively imposing it as a constraint on how the devolved administrations can use their powers.  From the point of view of the devolved administrations, any such framework should be negotiated and agreed, rather than being imposed, starting from the assumption that in areas where they hold the responsibility they are equal partners and should be treated as such.
Perhaps the UK Government will back down under the persistent pressure being applied, perhaps not.  But if they decide not to change course, there can only be one winner from this conflict in the short term: since all powers held by the devolved administrations are held only by the grace of a central parliament which reserves to itself the right to revoke them at any time, Westminster can always trump anything decided in Cardiff or Edinburgh (Belfast being currently in no position to decide anything anyway).  That is the whole point of devolution – it does not, and was never intended to, create any sort of ‘equality’ between the devolved parliaments and the central one.  It's a point which also goes to the heart of the difference between a voluntary union of independent states and a union based, ultimately, on conquest and domination.
Of course, Westminster’s belief in the utility of common frameworks extends only as far as the borders of the UK.  Much of what Brexit is intended to achieve (and in which it will succeed if it actually happens) is about weakening or even destroying existing common frameworks.  What is a good thing when applied to the Wales-England border is a bad thing when applied to the England-France border.  That is so obviously the case that it doesn’t even require anyone to explain why.
There is though one common aspect between the two situations, and that is the determination of Westminster that they, and they alone, should make the rules.  They try to present the EU rules as being ‘imposed’ by foreign bureaucrats, but the reality is that they are negotiated between the 28 member states.  The problem, for the English government, is that they have never been able to accept that in such a negotiation they might not always get everything they want.  Seen from that perspective, there’s nothing in the least surprising about their determination to press ahead with establishing the common post-Brexit UK frameworks without having to negotiate with anyone else.  Their stance is entirely consistent – the Westminster government must make all the rules.
That’s why I don’t really expect them to back down much more on the EU legislation despite the hostility of Cardiff and Edinburgh.  Their world view prevents them seeing any alternative.  It also helps to explain the gulf in understanding between the UK and the EU27; the UK is still waiting for the EU to accept that the UK must always be allowed to decide everything for itself, without ever having to get anyone else’s agreement. 

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Lying under oath

There have been some suggestions recently that Sinn Féin’s MPs should take their seats in the Westminster Parliament in order to change the balance of votes when it comes to Brexit.  In Ireland, the suggestion has been made on the basis of protecting the interests of the whole of Ireland, a basis which must surely hold at least some appeal to a party committed to a united Ireland.  The call by the Taoiseach seems well-motivated, but unlikely to have much impact, given the history and background of the issue.
In a rather simplistic comment in the Guardian, Polly Toynbee managed to reduce the whole history of abstentionism to a reluctance to “mutter the loyal oath”, bearing in mind that “they could always rescind it later”.  Things are much more complex than that, but that’s a subject for another day.  It made me wonder, though, why the loyal oath is necessary in the first place.
Were they to start ‘muttering’ it, Sinn Féin’s MPs wouldn’t be the only ones doing so dishonestly, with their fingers figuratively crossed behind their backs.  I’m certain that there are republicans in all parties in the House of Commons who still take the loyal oath (wording here), and in the National Assembly (which has a similar oath), even if some of them are unwilling to admit it.  All of them have, before taking up their seats, been obliged to utter a meaningless form of words with zero sincerity.  For understandable reasons, members of the Legislative Assembly in Northern Ireland do not have to swear allegiance to the Crown, or take any other form of oath; they merely have to sign the membership roll and pledge to observe a series of rules concerning their conduct.
But if merely signing in and agreeing to abide by the parliament’s rules is enough in one part of the UK, why isn’t it enough elsewhere?  Why do we continue to demand that elected members solemnly lie (with or without use of the bible) before they can do the job for which we elect them?  In one sense, it’s just a throwback to a more deferential era; in another it’s a formal reaffirmation of the constitutional fiction that power belongs to the monarch, not the people, and that our elected members are there to serve the monarch not the people.  Abolishing it is long overdue.
It wouldn’t be enough to end the abstentionist position of a party which refuses to accept that the UK Parliament has any rights to legislate for any part of the island of Ireland, but it would be a step towards recognising that power, ultimately, belongs to the people.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

The superiority is real, not imagined

I’ve never really understood how anyone can seriously support the idea of a hereditary head of state, where the incumbent is selected solely on the basis of being the eldest child of his or her parents.  (Actually, it’s not even as straightforward as that – the selection is on the basis of who are believed to be the parents; I’ve often wondered how many of those who have ascended to the throne are the offspring of someone else.  As the saying goes, ‘it’s a wise child who knows his own father’.)  And I know that there are many elected politicians, of all parties, who share that scepticism about the value of apparent heredity.
In practical terms, however, I’ve never seen it as a particular priority.  Whilst I’d prefer Wales to become a republic with an elected head of state, it is the possession of power to make laws which is the important issue, not the question of who formally signs them.  As long as, in practice, the monarch has no power to do anything other than what the government tells him or her to do, it’s a minor anomaly which can be corrected at some future date.
Sometimes, however, the issue becomes more relevant, not so much because of the fact that the head of state is a hereditary position, but because of the fiction which stems from that, which is that all power belongs to the monarch who graciously shares it with parliament.  It is particularly pertinent in the case of devolution.
In relation to the EU Continuity Bill which the Assembly yesterday agreed to treat as emergency legislation, yesterday’s Western Mail editorial column told us that the Welsh Government was correct in seeing the UK Government’s power grab as a threat to devolution, and added that “What Westminster is seeking to do is exert its authority over democratically-elected national bodies that it considers subordinate to it”.  I take issue with the use of the word ‘considers’ here.  I agree, though, that the question exposes a problem at the heart of ‘devolution’, which is that, in constitutional terms, all the power enjoyed by the National Assembly stems not from the fact that it is a democratically-elected body chosen by the people of Wales, but from the fact that the Crown-in-Parliament has allowed it to exist and allowed it to exercise a restricted range of powers.  The Assembly truly is ‘subordinate’ to Westminster; that is inherent in the very concept of ‘devolution’.
I can understand why supporters of devolution see the UK Government’s approach to Brexit as being something of a ‘power-grab’ (and I welcome the Assembly’s efforts to protect its powers); but I can equally understand why the UK Government sees a body which has, from a London perspective, no more right to its existence than a county council as getting above itself when it dares to challenge the central power.  Legally, Westminster has every right to be “imposing its will on Wales and Scotland” as the Western Mail puts it.  And complaining about “an administration that considers itself superior” is empty rhetoric.
If we don’t want a body which is constitutionally superior to behave as though it is constitutionally superior, we need to take away its constitutional superiority.  At the least, that requires a change in the UK constitution to recognise that the people, not the monarch, are sovereign.  And for the Assembly to be treated as any sort of equal with Westminster requires us to treat powers held in Westminster as having been loaned to Westminster by the people of Wales rather than treat those exercised by the Assembly as having been loaned to the people of Wales by a hereditary monarch.  It’s a paradigm shift which I doubt the Western Mail is ready to make.

Monday, 5 March 2018

Were her fingers still crossed?

If the main audience for the PM’s much-heralded speech last Friday was her own party, and if its main purpose was to reunite that party, then success was at best limited, with the former deputy Prime Minister firing another salvo over the weekend.  I can understand why any party leader would prefer to have a party united behind her on policy and direction rather than with the simple intent of inserting a knife between her shoulder blades, but given the depth of the disagreement on Europe within her party, and the fact that it’s been a running sore for three decades, I suspect that her attempts are doomed from the start.  Time to recognise that one of the world’s most electorally successful parties is no longer fit for purpose.
Paradoxically, if the main audience was anyone but her own party, then the speech could probably be considered marginally more successful.  It’s still peppered with ridiculous fantasies and contradictions – what can anyone make of her claim that she wants the “broadest and deepest possible agreement – covering more sectors and co-operating more fully than any free trade agreement anywhere in the world today” whilst also admitting that any deal on her terms will mean less free trade than at present.  There already is a ‘most ambitious free trade deal’ in existence.  It’s called the EU and she’s leading the UK out of it, so what she’s actually calling for is the ‘second broadest and deepest’ deal.
Her talk of the deal being a ‘win-win’ is equally silly if confined solely to economics.  There can be little doubt that it’s actually ‘lose-lose’, and the purpose of any negotiation is to mitigate the losses, not maximise the non-existent gains.  The only way that anyone can interpret any aspect of this as a ‘win’ is by treating non-economic considerations as being more important than economic ones.  That is, ultimately, the position held by Brexiteers, and it would be an entirely honourable one if they were to be honest about it.  Some of us would still disagree, of course, but at least we’d be debating on an honest basis.
At one point in her speech she actually said “I want to be straight with people”.  But if that’s what she wants to do, why not do it?  It’s the sort of political rhetoric that always makes me certain that what’s about to follow is going to be the exact opposite. Still, even if at a detailed level she’s still asking for what she knows to be impossible, at a headline level it’s easy to see why the EU negotiators have welcomed what looks like the start of a realisation that the UK’s red lines are going to have to be rubbed out one by one.
In fairness to the Prime Minister, I thought that she did a pretty good job, in most of the speech, in setting out why membership of the EU is such a good idea for the UK, and why we will lose out unless we retain membership of various agencies and keep most of the EU’s rules and regulations.  At least, that’s what I thought she was saying, and that’s what the EU negotiators seem to think she was saying as well.  On the other hand, both they and I thought that she had committed, last December, to keeping Northern Ireland in the same customs and regulatory regime as the rest of Ireland.  It turned out that she had her fingers crossed behind her back all the time, invalidating all promises made.  The question now is whether they were still crossed last Friday.  The Brexiteers who praised her speech certainly seem to think so.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

What republic?

Last December, the UK Prime Minister agreed a joint statement with the EU27 which said, in relation to a border across the island of Ireland, that “…in the absence of a later agreement, the UK will ensure “full alignment” with the rules of the customs union and single market that uphold the Good Friday agreement”.  Yesterday, the EU27 published a draft treaty to implement the December agreement in which one option (Option C) is that Northern Ireland remains aligned with EU rules in a number of areas.  I am struggling to see why the first of those was presented as a great triumph for Theresa May, but the other is something to which she says “no United Kingdom prime minister could ever agree”. 
Of course, my inability to see the enormous difference between these two things might be entirely my problem.  I am, after all, someone who still fails to understand the huge significance of swapping a burgundy passport for a blue one.  On the other hand, it is at least possible that I might be right and there is no real difference - other than that three months have passed since then, during which the EU was supposed to have forgotten what the UK agreed to last December, because it was, in reality, simply a negotiating ploy to allow talks to progress, and not something which they were ever supposed to take seriously.
There are two underlying problems highlighted by the Irish border issue.  The first is that the Prime Minister has managed to make three very clear promises:
·         She has promised the EU and the Irish that she will do nothing which necessitates a hard border across Ireland,
·         She has promised the DUP that there will be no border between the island of Ireland and the island of Great Britain, and
·         She has promised her own backbenchers that the UK will leave the Customs Union and the Single Market and make its own regulations and trade deals.
It is perfectly possible for her to keep any two of those promises; the delusion is to believe that there is any conceivable way of keeping all three.  The question which I find myself asking is why that delusion is so strong, not just for her, but for all the others who continue to insist that they can do all three.
That brings us to the second, and perhaps more important, underlying issue.  I believe that they really don’t understand that Ireland is an independent sovereign state, and continue to regard it as some sort of semi-detached part of the UK, inextricably bound up with the rest of us, with a leadership which is currently being awkward but which will fall into line eventually.  And at the moment, I’m not sure that the English nationalists running the UK at the moment, with their entire philosophical outlook firmly rooted in the days of empire, is capable of developing the understanding which will be necessary if they are ever to reach an agreement.  Mere facts can’t convince people who prefer their own ‘facts’, a perspective which means that the inevitable failure of the current approach will always be someone else’s fault. 
The cliff edge awaits.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

The race to the bottom

It is right that the government and opposition parties should be competing with each other to offer alternative views of the future.  But that doesn’t make it sensible for them to compete to see who can come up with the most inane ideas about borders and customs union.  In a tight race this week to see who could say the silliest thing on the issue, Corbyn’s claim that we could be part of a customs union in which the UK could set its own external tariffs was narrowly pipped by Johnson’s claim that the whole border issue is as simple as recording the registration numbers of vehicles crossing it.  Neither show much understanding of the question.
What the Government has failed to explain to the satisfaction of just about anyone so far is why it is so important that the UK should be able to negotiate its own trade deals rather than relying on the 60 or so trade deals which the EU already has in place and the new deals which it is already pursuing.  Why duplicate or compete with that, just to put a different flag on the agreement?  In fairness to Corbyn and Labour, as I understood what Corbyn and his supporters to be saying this week, the reason that they want to be able to do that is because they feel that the EU has been discriminatory against poorer countries in its current tariff structures.  If true, that’s a fair point, and a reasonable basis for seeking change.  The problem with Labour’s position is that they seem to believe that they can both stay within a single tariff regime with the rest of the EU and at the same time adjust the UK’s tariffs with the countries concerned.
If we use a few simple figures to illustrate the point, what they are arguing in essence is that their (new, improved, bespoke) customs union can impose a common external tariff of, say 20%, and that the UK can then negotiate separate deals to reduce that tariff to say 10% (or even 0%) for those poorer countries to help them to improve their economies.  In principle, that’s simple enough – provided that those imported goods then stay inside the UK and are not transported elsewhere with the customs union.  But the point of the customs union is that goods from one member state can flow freely to all the others.  How would one prevent goods from being imported to, say, Belfast with no tariff and then transported by lorry to Dublin where the common external tariff of 20% applies, without introducing the sort of hard border which Labour say their proposal is designed to obviate? 
The whole point of a customs union is that it allows goods to flow across the ‘internal’ borders of that union without requiring any tariffs; Labour’s proposal would seem to undermine that completely.  Their fraternal support for the poor whose goods are being shut out of the EU is well-intentioned but, assuming the truth of the claim, what is the best way of seeking change?  Is it by changing the EU’s trade policies to allow those poorer countries better trade access to the whole EU market of 500 million, or is it by negotiating UK specific deals which only allow access to the UK market of 60 million? 
Noting the registration details of vehicles crossing the border with no clue as to who or what is inside them was the even sillier response from the Foreign Secretary who seems not to comprehend the difference between a county border and an international one.  His proposal would certainly provide an electronic list of which vehicles are in the UK at any time and which are not.  But it would tell us nothing at all about who or what was in the vehicles.  Obviously ‘taking control of our borders’ is rather less important to him than he said it was.